The Great March has ended

Eulalie and the Great March

It’s finally over! “Eulalie and the Great March” drew a decent crowd and some thoughtful comments during the talkback. The playwright should be pleased.

I taped the show but I have been having computer problems that prevent me from editing it and making a DVD. Soon. The computer goes back into the shop Monday.

In the meantime there is one more week of shows and the cast party to look forward to.

This week I have been March ‘breaking’ with my son so no book reviews. I have been reading a bit but not blogging. My current reads have been pretty forgettable so why bother. I’m not one to write a bad review just for the evil fun of shredding someone else’s hard work.

Crispy crunchy return

Thanks to “Anonymous” for your comment. This is a site on the Internet that could have been designed for me. Use it to name your own cereal. I’ve chosen the obvious but you don’t have to.

Try the link and litter your blogs with your own crispy, crunchy confections:

Irreverent and Moral Reviews

L’Apocalypse à Kamloops:

The Théâtre Français de Toronto does a lot of unique, interesting stuff. They do the usual French favorites, of course. If you like interesting takes on classic comedies by Molière, this is your theatre. It’s also a good way to see the latest Michel Tremblay plays. Best of all, they do new material.

The latest foray, L’Apocalypse à Kamloops, is about a family with 25 hours left to live. An urbane angel and her earthy apprentice are given the job of helping them resolve their conflicts and redeem themselves before an enormous asteroid hits the Earth.

I am a fan of absurd theatre but after reading Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus in my lonely dorm room, overlooking Mount Saint Victoire in Aix-en-Provence, and watching or reading the classics: Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard etc. I often find new absurd plays to be beside the point.

Yes, Atheism exists. Yes, our lives could be completely random, ordered only by human and natural forces with no ulterior motives to influence us from a higher plane. In fact, Heaven and Hell could just be stories people have made up and told each other because the alternative, that we are just animals like any others, without prospects for life-after-death, is too painful to accept. Worse still, if it’s true we have no excuse for what we are doing to the planet and no right to mess things up for other animals because our rights are not superior to theirs.

[Start of impassioned rant.]

In fact, opposing comforting religious beliefs might be the best thing we could do for the Earth and it’s non-human residents, but only if we linked this movement to a feeling of dire personal responsibility: No excuses, no afterlife, no divine intervention when things go too far — just a moral obligation to correct our wrongs ourselves, to forgive each other, to make the world a cleaner, more peaceful place because this world is all we have.

[End of impassioned rant.]

In writing, L’Apocalypse à Kamloops, Stephan Cloutier sidesteps the trap of derivative absurdism by looking at the incongruities of modern life within a framework that postulates a higher power. For him, angels are beings much like humans with vanities and frailties similar to our own, who struggle to influence peoples’ decisions within a scientifically sound universe that includes life on other planets. Contemporary French Canadians are not adrift in an absurdist, godless universe, but they must still face facts: Our short lifespans are dwarfed by eternity and the vastness of the (possibly multiple) universe(s). It’s cleverly updated absurdism for our multifaith, scientifically sophisticated times and I found it very funny indeed.

Truth and Reconciliation

Guy Mignault, in discussion with the audience after the preview, made an interesting point. He said that in theatre, by playing different roles, you are able to understand how people can do terrible things. He gives the example of a father locking his daughter up in a nunnery, a practice common enough in Molière’s day but which we would consider a violation of human rights.

Could we, by putting ourselves into the shoes of those who commit evil acts, prevent them from reoccurring? Can forgiveness and understanding heal the perpetrators as well as the victims? It’s a question that returns to me as I have recently finished reading Country of my Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa by Antjie Krog. It’s such a hard, poetic, factual book. It made me cry in public places, losing and gaining faith in humanity by turns. Anyone interested in ant-racist anything should read it. I just find it impossible to review Krog’s work in an objective way.

Krog is able to depict the stress-induced illnesses and daily horror experienced by those serving or reporting on South African Truth and Reconciliation because she was there. Her writing is up to the task, as is her analysis but her experiences nearly break her, and many her fellow journalists. Rending, painful, necessary. Who needs fiction?

Now listening to — Monologues

I haven’t been blogging lately due to computer problems. They are not completely fixed but I’m posting anyway.

I spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening plus all day today casting a play.

I haven’t been reading much, but I did listen to over 85 prepared monologues plus another 80 or so cold readings. I’ve found myself thinking in monologues, while brushing my teeth, while taking the train… In fact, since I’m shamelessly writing about myself here, I guess you could call this a blog-o-logue.

My callbacks are Wednesday. Heck, I almost feel like a big shot director! 😉 Well, not really… but I’ve seen a lot of humblingly good talent. One of the highlights has been hearing different interpretations of the same pieces.

For the New Ideas Festival, directors choose their favorites from the open casting call and then arrange callbacks. There is no guarantee that the actor you like best will not choose a different show in the festival. The organizers have the final say, however, and they take great pains to keep it fair. So far I’ve been extremely impressed by the Alumni Theatre’s organization and welcoming attitude. I can’t commend these volunteers enough.

Happy reading!

Crispy, crunchy, wholesome: Cereal Girl

Judith Thompson — Perfect Pie

I went to see the Alumni Theatre production of Perfect Pie, directed by Paul Hardy. Judith Thompson has won two Governor General’s Awards for her plays, plus a handful of other writing prizes for stage and radio.

As we were being seated, Andy Fraser who plays Patsy, made a pie on stage. Her careful gestures helped get us into the mood of the piece. I also liked the use of shim-covered structures which were rotated and either lit to reveal the interior or kept dark to block our view. Sometimes it’s the low-budget shows that I like best. The emphasis is on acting in an intimate space, a feeling which is hard to create at a big musical or the opera.

The subject matter, too, demanded sensitive treatment. Patsy, a farmer, sends a tape inviting her one-time best friend Francesca, to visit her. Over the course of this visit, the women revisit their intense friendship. Francesca, who was christened Marie, ran away from her abusive parents and the youth of the town who harassed her for being poor, Catholic and unsubmissive.

The flashbacks, which inform and dramatize the women’s reminiscences, are acted out by Young Patsy and Marie.

In the culminating moment, both women relive a train accident that transformed them forever. Their roles reverse and evolve as they exchange intimacies with an intensity day-to-day friends never experience. Both women know this visit is the first and last, but it changes them forever.

This memorable play premiered at the Tarragon Theatre in 2000 and deserves to be produced often.

Alumni Theatre — New Ideas & Why I love Rabelais

I answered a call for directors for the New Ideas Festival at the Alumni Theatre in Toronto. There are three weeks of one-act plays plus longer “Saturday Experiments.” The process is intense.

Playwrights send their plays or works-in-progress to the Alum. Once the best are chosen, the theatre holds a ‘meet and greet,’ where playwrights get on stage and explain their concepts. After that, directors and playwrights drink a coffee and chat. Some exchange resumes and set up meetings right away. There is no guarantee that any particular director will get to direct one of the plays. The auditorium was pretty full and the number of plays are limited.

A few days after the meeting, directors receive email copies of the plays to read. We have until November 30 to network by phone etc. and submit a proposal for our two favorites. The choice will be based primarily on the preferences of the writers. Not bad. Maybe I should submit a short to them next year. Maybe you should too.

I have co-directed several times and I have directed my own school productions but this is different: adult actors and an adult audience; working with a script that isn’t my own; production in a recognized venue that is publicized and open to the public. Wow.

Of course we won’t get paid but many of the people involved will be ambitious, early in their careers and counting on a good show with reviews. I hope I can do the job they deserve and still have a good time. I’m very old-fashioned and still believe in doing “art for art’s sake.” That’s one reason I think some of the best writers have always had a day job, often one that was considered more important than their writing.

My favorite example is Francois Rabelais, doctor to the king, possible spy and Renaissance man. He claimed to write his political satires featuring giant kings during his meal breaks. I’m impressed he could eat considering how scatological some passages are… Of course it’s more about theories of education and politics than dirty jokes. He exhorts us to crack the bone that is this amusing book to get to it’s precious essence.

Interested? Read Pantagruel, Garantua and the Tiers Livre. It’s wonderful stuff and easily available in English or modern French translations.

I Prefer Rabelais: Oeuvres completes, L’integrale. Mine is dated 1973, by Editions du Seuil, Paris but it was purchased in Aix-en-Provence in the 1990’s. It’s sort of the French equivalent of the Riverside Chaucer in many ways with an added advantage: Each page is laid out so you can look at the middle French and modern French translation side by side. There are copious footnotes in the back to help with historical context and word nuance. It’s one of my prize possessions.